Topic: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

I've posted a few pictures of my monster model kits in the Pictures thread and they've generated a bit of interest. Rather than monopolize that thread, I thought I'd post a "how to" thread showing the process. I'll use the old Polar Lights PHANTOM OF THE OPERA kit because I documented the construction so I have a ready supply of images. This kit isn't in production although it can likely be found cheap on eBay. All the techniques shown can be used on other models. There will be a few techniques not used on this Phantom model so I'll post pictures of other models if required.

The first step I recommend is WASHING the kits parts. That doesn't require a photo illustration. But some kits have a lot mold release on them so it's a good idea just to wash the parts in a sink of warm dishwashing detergent. That will get any mold release off the gluing surfaces and help paint adhesion. Some guys don't do this. I think it's a good idea.

It's also helpful if you understand the concept of "subassemblies". This is simply the idea that you can glue many small assemblies together at the same time before joining them later.

So here are the basic subassemblies for the Phantom figure:

Use whatever works to hold the pieces together. It might be tape, elastic bands, clothes pins or small spring clamps. Generally speaking, you want to keep pieces clamped for about 2 hours before removing the clamps. There will be some pieces that bear a very light load and just have to be held for a few minutes before they are good to go.

Keeping with the idea of subassemblies, while you are waiting for the glue on the  Phantom figure parts to dry, you can go ahead and work on the organ:

Here's what the primary components look like when mocked-up on the base. But don't glue them on the base yet. There is painting and detailing to do before you get to that step.

End of Part 1. More to come.

Last edited by Dex Robinson (2011-10-24 21:09:06)

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

You got my attention...

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

There are more things to do before you get to any painting...but painting is the fun part so I'll post a couple of pictures here to illustrate a point.

In the miniature world, there are no solid colors. If we think something is green or black, we have to paint in extra elements to force our eyes to see things that will hold their attention. People can wear solid black tuxedos...models can't.

One thing I'll mention is that I like to use a primer. Again, not all modelers use a primer. But I think it helps paint adhesion and that's a good idea if you are doing a lot of masking where you are sticking and removing tape. I actually use automotive Duplicolor FILLER Primer from a spray can. And note that I didn't paint the area of the base where the organ will be glued into place.

This picture of the base illustrates the idea of creating interesting texture. You could say the base is "dark grey" but solid dark grey just wouldn't look right. You need some detail to hold the viewers interest. I'll mention that I think the kit designer made a mistake by designing a square base. Right angles should be avoided...but that's the kit's fault and not mine. My job is to take a boring square and give it some interest.

So after applying a basic grey color, I added some paint detail to the individual blocks. That includes slightly varying the colors of several blocks. On a few of them, I masked the surrounding area and spattered some paint using an old toothbrush. This gives the effect of speckled granite. Then I washed in a thin, dark color between the blocks.

The next photo shows very early painting of the Phantom figure. This is clearly the first base color. I've masked off his head and hands because, even though they aren't painted yet, I don't want to be painting over black. At this stage, I've just sprayed plain black. Although I don't honestly remember what I used, I suspect it was just black spray paint straight from a can. Although I regularly use an airbrush, I also use spray cans for common, solid colors. One of my "rules" for painting is you use whatever works for the job. I don't use ONE kind of paint or one technique. I use whatever gives me the look I want. Many of my models will have spray lacquer, enamel, acrylics, airbrush work, oil washes and anything else needed for the correct effect.

At this stage, the Phantom looks pretty boring (and shiny)...but it gets better.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Why black as base color? I would have thought grey or white.

Last edited by Underdog (2011-10-24 22:17:05)

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

also do you use any filler for the seems? does the base coat or primer work as a filler?

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

First, the question of filling seams.

Hiding the seams is one of the most important parts of model building. In a contest, it's usually the first thing judges look for.

There are several ways to fill or hide seams.

Many modern kits fit very well and, with luck, a lot of the seams can simply be sanded away without filling. For example, on most of the Phantom figure, the seams are very tight. A bit of glue will squeeze out when the parts are joined. After the glue dries, the seam can be scraped down with a single edged razor blade or an exacto knife blade. Then, you can finish it off with some wet-or-dry sandpaper (used wet) grits of 320, 400 and 600 are the most handy.

Of course not all seams are such an easy job. Sometimes, they have to be filled. The old standard for that is automotive spot and glazing putty sold in tubes. It's a thick, lacquer based paste about the consistency of toothpaste. In the photos below, I have applied it to the organ. If spread on thin, it can be sanded within half an hour (wait longer for thicker applications). Again, you can scrape off the high spots of the putty and then finish with wet-or-dry sandpaper used wet. Observe that this is used not only to fill seams, but to fill some "sink marks" or low spots resulting from the plastic shrinking in certain spots caused by the molding process.

Another technique gaining popularity for seam filling is the use of superglue! Cyanoacrylate super glue (Krazy Glue) will harden without shrinking. It's often used with a filler (such as baking soda) for larger seams. I'm increasingly using this method myself. As usual, the seam is finished with wet-or-dry sandpaper.

As for black as the base's the base COLOR smile. The Phantom figure was primed with a gray primer (the aforementioned Duplicolor  Filler Primer). So that gray primer would be the base coat. But the black color you see on the figure is a significant part of the final paint job that you will see. There will be details added to that color later.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Might as well finish off the organ since I used it as the seam example.

In these next two pictures, the basic paint work is done (still some detailing left to do). The idea here is to illustrate the concept of trying to break up surfaces by adding something other than solid color. In this case, I've attempted a woodgrain finish but this isn't about a specific technique. I just want to show that a solid color is best avoided if you want a realistic look. You could paint the organ just plain brown but that would seem toy-like.

I've used acrylic paint here but don't get hung up on any specific type of paint. Acrylics have become very common in recent years and the supply of colors is good but, if you prefer something else, use what works for you. After priming, I painted the organ with a brown acrylic. I used an airbrush because I have one and it's easy for me to do it that way. Airbrushes are great tools but there are still a lot of regular brush painters. After giving is a solid brown coat, I went back with some darkened brown and sort of "outlined" the organ surfaces...this is where the airbrush is very handy.

Having got the basic brown shades, I did some brush work for the woodgrain. I mixed some dark brown into clear acrylic painting medium to make a tranparent color. You can buy that medium at any Michael's craft store. Use their 40% off coupon and $10.00 will buy enough clear medium for a lifetime. I brushed the transparent dark brown mixture over the surface and PURPOSELY ALLOWED IT TO  STREAK. That streaking gives it a wood grain. If you attempt this, remember to move the brush in one direction along the surface because you want the streaks to follow a wood grain pattern,

Keep in mind that the wood grain is not something that you have to do. I actually did one of these models before and I just stopped with the two tone look pretty good. I just  wanted to try the woodgrain this time to see if it worked. The ultimate lesson is to try and avoid a solid monotone.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Face painting techniques vary a lot. Painting a human face isn't quite the same as painting the face on The Creature From the Black Lagoon. For that reason, I'll also post (later) some other faces but I'll start with the Phantom.

You can buy flesh colored paint if you look hard for it...but I think that's a waste of time. I just mix my own. Start with some white, add some brown, a bit of yellow, some red and even a touch of blue so it doesn't look jaundiced. I don't have an exact mixture because there is no one exact skin color.

The single most important technique demonstrated on this face is dry-brushing. Dry-brushing is a fundamental painting technique used on ALL models. It is especially important on figure/monster models. If you want to be even half way good, this is something you must learn to do. Fortunately, it's not really that difficult.

In this case, a basic flesh tone is first applied. Dry-brushing is a detailing technique used to bring out texture. If just left a single flesh tone, we would not see the texture of the skin. Our eyes can read natural shadows and highlights on full size faces but we can't resolve such things on tiny model faces. Dry-brushing uses paint to force highlights and shadows.

To dry-brush, take some of the base color mixture (flesh tone, in this case) and lighten it. You can lighten flesh tone with white paint . Put your brush in the lightened mixture then remove the excess from the brush by painting some scrap (like a piece of paper) until there is very little paint left in the bristles. In other words, you want the bristles in the paint brush to be almost DRY (hence: dry-brushing). Then drag the brush across the flesh colored face and the high spots on the face will pick up the lighter color. Because there is little paint on the brush, this takes many passes. Remember the brush must be nearly dry because you DON'T want paint flowing into low spots and crevices...that defeats the purpose of dry-brushing. Dry-brushing is for high spots!

Notice how this works to good effect on the face of the Phantom. See how it brings out the wrinkles in his forehead? Also note the highlights on his cheeks, ears, chin and the bridge of his nose. This makes it easier for our eyes to see three dimensional relief in his face that we would not see with a monotone flesh color.

As you see this on your monitor, you may be looking at a face that's 8" or 10" high and it may look a bit overdone. However, the actual model face is little more than the size of the pad on your thumb and this exaggerated painting is necessary for normal eyes to see detail without the benefit of magnification.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

I'm going to step away from the Phantom for a moment and call on Frankenstein's monster to illustrate some different things.

This is the head from the Moebius Frankenstein kit. I'm not happy with the hairline as originally molded (top photo) so I re-sculpted it (lower two photos) with some epoxy putty and carved some new hair. The hair on the original kit part looks like a 1950's pompadour.

In the next photo, I've added the basic skin tone and airbrushed in some darker color around the eyes. I painted the eyeballs white. There is no trick to painting the just need a really small brush. And go to a discount tool store and pick up a magnifying visor for about $6.00. You'll need it.

The last photo shows the result of a technique that's not really visible on the Phantom. The Frankenstein monster face has a "wash".  A wash is the exact opposite of dry-brushing. Washes use extremely thin paint which is put onto the kit part and allowed to flow down into crevices. And washes are almost always darker than the base color whereas dry-brush colors are lighter. Washes emphasize shadow while dry-drushing em[phasizes high-lights.

For the Frankenstein monster, I used a wash of Payne's Grey oil paint. Payne's grey is a purple grey which is appropriate for the subject. The base color is acrylic but the oil is better for washes. I thin the oil paint with Naptha which I buy as Ronsonol Lighter Fluid at Canadian Tire! This is great because it evaporates very quickly so the wash can be done in no time and you can see the results right away.

Observe the way the wash has settled in around the eyes, the lips, folds from the nostrils and various low spots on the face. The result is somewhat splotchy and would not be very appropriate if you were modleing a pretty girl. However, on this kit, the effect is perfect. Again, it's about having a variety of techniques available and using what looks right for the kit.

Last edited by Dex Robinson (2011-10-25 18:54:43)

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Good call on the hair. Thanks for all the info I will be trying it out soon.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Here's another lesson in breaking up a solid color. The guy is dressed in a black suit which will be covered with a black cape. That's a whole lot of black. I didn't want to beat it up with anything that would make it look  too heavily textured. After all...this is formal wear; not scales on Godzilla.

I decided to give his suit some pinstripes (actually, these wider stripes are properly called chalk stripes but I rarely hear that term anymore).

Painting individual stripes would be a job too nightmarish to contemplate. I masked off the striped areas with thin strips of masking tape (cut your own or try to find very thin drafting tape).  Notice that I didn't bother masking those areas that will later be hidden by his cape. Once I had the tape in place, I airbrushed a coat of dark grey. Subtlety is the don't want him to look like the referee at an NFL game. Of course, the masking is the big job. The actual painting takes about a minute.

In the lower photo, he has a coat of matte varnish to tone down the gloss.

Last edited by Dex Robinson (2011-10-25 21:05:23)

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

I'll finish up the Phantom of the Opera.

One problem presented with this kit is the cape. It's really built around the figure and that makes it awkward to paint. If you paint it first, you'll get uglly seams when it's assembled around the figure. But it's almost impossible to paint properly once it's on the figure. This is a problem with some figures that have any kinds of coats that are added after the main figure is built. In this case, I sort of split the difference. I painted the inside and outside of the cape but  masked off the area of the seam so that I could glue the cape together and then have room to fill and sand down the seam. After that was done, the seams were touched up with paint.

Here's the competed model. It was given a coat of Liquitex Matte clear varnish to kill the shine. In retrospect, this model is still a touch to glossy although I rationalize that by assuming the clothes are silk smile. Sometimes, if I need a very flat finish, I'll add some talcum powder to the clear coat. Some clear flat finishes like Testors Dull Cote are very flat and do an excellent job. But Dull cote is lacquer based and requires great care. After a model is dull coated some parts like the eyes may still require a glossy finish. In that case I go back and use a clear gloss...either clear gloss painting medium or "Pledge with Future Shine" (formerly sold as "Future") floor finish.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

And here's the 3D version. Standard old fashioned anaglyph: red over your left eye, cyan over your right.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

I got the Munsters living room. have you done that one and if so any tips.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Funny thing is that I have a Munsters Living Room still in the box but I haven't built it.

Just my luck, I bought it when it was a very expensive kit. Today, it's about half the price.

That kit is one of the kits that was reverse-engineered by Polar Lights many years ago. The original molds are either gone or not availalbe so PL took an original kit and used that to design molds.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Found this site.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Check out this trailer

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Very cool stuff!

I have to admit that, for me, the monster models are more about nostalgia than anything else. Given the finished sculptures and figures you can buy, there aren't a lot of practical reason to build the old kits.

For me, anything before 1985 is "the good old days". I had a great childhood...moved on to a great job...lot's of money...drove a 1959 Corvette...had a gorgeous girl.  In 1986, I stressed out at work and had to quit, my girlfriend went to Hawaii and fell for someone else and a month later my father died. In a couple of weeks I had no job, no money, no car, no girl, no father.

There isn't much of "the good old days" that I can bring back. But the monster models and the old monster movies are among the very few things that connect me to a time when all was right with the world (my world, anyway).

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

I think these kits capture a magic time for horror movies and childhood that even people like me who weren’t around when they were new can appreciate. I have said on other posts my love for horror movies is partly nostalgic at heart. It started with staying up late to watch Elvira and the midnight movies.

I really appreciate you sharing your hobby and tips. I am hooked. My Munster’s living room should be showing up any day, I’ll post pics and probably qustions as I go.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Got the Munsters kit.

It wasn’t a surprise but sank in a little more when I saw it that this thing has a million pieces. It’s going to take some time but should be fun.

Re: How to Make a (Plastic) Monster

Hi there, I just wanted to let you know that I can't believe how good your article is.  It's very informative down to every detail. It's seems like you could do this professionally if you wanted to.  When I was young my Father brought me home the Frankenstein model that you show above, but like most kids I just wanted to slap it together and don't think I even painted it.  My parents and I went to all the monster movies that came out and I now am very nostalgic about everything we did together.  Even tho I was a girl, my Father liked to buy me a variety of toys I guess so I would be well rounded.  I've been scouring the web for a good deal on the model of Frankenstein you show above.  Is there any chance that you could finish the article on him?  He looks a bit easier than the Phantom.  I don't know if you still check this article out that you wrote, but just wanted to say that it's one of the better articles I've read and to please keep up the good work.  I think more people would probably comment on it, but it's kind of hard to find.  I came across the link while hunting for a kit to buy and decided to check it out.  Again great posting!